Separation anxiety is normal in very young children (those between 8 and 14 months old). Kids often go through a phase when they are “clingy” and afraid of unfamiliar people and places. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, this normal stage of development is connected with the baby learning to distinguish his or her parents or other familiar caretakers from people they don’t know. Stranger anxiety usually starts at about 8 months of age and ends by the time the child is 2 years old. However, when this fear occurs in a child over age 6 years, is excessive, and lasts longer than four weeks, the child may have separation anxiety disorder.
Some children also develop physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomachaches, at the thought of being separated. The fear of separation causes great distress to the child and may interfere with the child’s normal activities, such as going to school or playing with other children.
Most children with separation anxiety disorder get better, although their symptoms may recur for many years, particularly when stressful events or situations occur. When treatment is started early and involves the family as well as the child, the child’s chance of recovery improves.
Unfortunately, there is no known way to prevent separation anxiety disorder. However, recognizing and acting on symptoms when they appear can minimize distress and prevent problems associated with not going to school. In addition, reinforcing a child’s independence and self-esteem through support and approval may help prevent future episodes of anxiety.
Separation anxiety affects approximately 4%-5% of children in the U. S. ages 7 to 11 years. It is less common in teenagers, affecting about 1.3% of American teens. It affects boys and girls equally.
Following are some of the most common symptoms of separation anxiety disorder:
You can help your child combat separation anxiety disorder by taking steps to make him or her feel safer. Providing a sympathetic environment at home can make your child feel more comfortable, and making changes at school may help reduce your child’s symptoms. Even if your efforts don’t completely solve the problem, your empathy can only make things better. If you need professional help, find a counselor that specializes in children’s anxiety. Jennifer Nahrebeski can help your child become happier and healthier by addressing the disorder in a loving and nonjudgmental way. Jennifer is available on weekends and evenings, and her consultations are always confidential. Call her now at (716) 432-3656.